I starting to think about this one yesterday (I told you it was coming) as I was writing the update post. It's a thought which I think has been circulating that creative space within my head for a good while now, but which got lost among the general chaos in there.
As you all may be aware (my constant mentioning of it may be a hint), much work has occurred on this new website of ours recently....
That is what set me thinking.
Now, we're probably all creative types here. I'm the only writer in a family of artists (my Dad, sister, aunts, and cousin are all rather good) and musicians (Dad and sister, none of them famous but talented). I had always been of the belief that creative talent was specific, that it tended to - with a few notable exceptions - be focussed on a single 'discipline' as it were.
The Serotonin Twist
Now, clearly, I gain pleasure from writing. I am at my most focussed, engaged, and energetic as I create scenes, and people, and events, and whole worlds. It is a joy beyond description to do this. I can work for hours, seeming days on end without even a pee break when I'm on a good scene; my coffee cold, my cigarettes orphaned.
Then I stumbled upon what I might call my artistic side (I'm already an artist of words but you know what I mean) when I thought that it would be a good idea to produce some character portraits while I was building my first website.
It was, of course, a process. My first efforts, while innovative and fitting into my vision for the series were, to be frank, awful. I stuck with it anyway and, I hope, the next generation excelled where the first merely served. There is a lesson in there isn't there?
I did, however, learn something immediately. This act of creation was as immersive and enjoyable as my writing had, up that point, been. Ask my wife; I would spend whole days at it, oblivious to external stimuli, only stopping when meals were ready or nature's call grew too urgent.
The act of bringing beings and people who had just existed in my head - and those of the few who'd read any of my work until then - were there, in three dimensions, looking back at me.
It was rather cathartic.
Art for Art’s Sake?
Now, as I began serious work on the new website, perfecting previous efforts as I went, I was subject to the same feelings.
I would compare it to having a child. You think your child is the most beautiful child (I have two daughters and, when they're old enough, I am convinced they will require Daddy to purchase weaponry) that exists. But, when you take them out for public display, you go to the extra effort of dressing them nicely, cleaning their face and arranging their hair because you want them to look their best do you not?
As your child grows and changes so too does the way you present them and the effort you expend in grooming them when entering into the world at large. Family can see the dirty-faced pictures because they love them anyway but everyone else...they must see the best possible version!
So, too, it is with your work, right?
It is All a Process
It is a process, especially for those of us who are new to this game. We can subscribe to fora, to groups, to mailing lists. We can observe the social media posts of others of our ilk. We can observe the behaviour of those whose fame we covet and aspire towards.
We are, essentially though, completely on our own.
Imagine, if you will, being afloat in the middle of a body of water. Got it? There is a fog over the water, and you can see no more than six feet in any direction. You're feeling cold as the water seeps into your bones. You know that if you stay static, it will only be a matter of time...
So, what do you do?
Well, perhaps, your first option would be to consult experience. Have you been in a situation like this before? Are you dreaming or is this real? A basic mental inventory is required. How was it that we arrived here?
Step two would be to seek consultation perhaps. Calling for help may perhaps be wise because, most likely, our mental inventory turned up little of value.
Let us say our requests for assistance go unanswered. Now what?
Is one direction as good as the other or do we have other stimuli, other pieces of knowledge which might assist us? Do we have instincts - a feeling in our belly or bones - which tell us that North is clearly the way to go? Do we even know which direction North is? How do we find out?
Floating in the cool water in what the inimitable Bill Bryson called a "lather of indecision" is unlikely to be beneficial to our long-term prospects.
Forward is Always Best?
Direction is, often enough, a matter of perspective, if one chooses to be philosophical about it.
If one goes backward, one has first to turn and face said direction in order to avoid potential obstacles along the way, wouldn't you say? In turning to address what is behind you, 'behind' becomes in 'front of'. You can then choose to adjust your position and either keep this vista in front of you or return it to its previous state of behindness.
You can move forward, or you can describe circles in trying to decide whether you are actually going forward or not.
It's fine to make mistakes, in fact it is essential to do so.
As I have said, my first forays into the realms of digital art were embarrassing. My efforts had childish elements to them and looked, while approaching my vision, terrible and not quite good enough.
I could have left it there and been satisfied, told myself "I had a go" and that's the best of it. Your best is enough, surely?
Well, here's the thing; you change.
Your Best Yesterday
Let's go back to our floating in the water scenario.
We shall now add a caveat to it. This is the third time you have been in similar circumstances.
The first time it happened you, quite understandably, followed common sense procedure, stayed put, used the whistle attached to your lifejacket and awaited rescue. You almost drowned.
On the second occasion, your mental inventory recalled these events and added that it was a little bit strange that one was to find oneself in the exact same unlikely situation twice in a row in....what was in?...the same week. A clear and obvious conclusion to arrive at from there was that this must be a dream.
Of course, realising one is in a dream whilst one is dreaming is quite the complicated situation. It takes practise to influence a dream in progress, I hear.
This knowledge does influence your decision making, however.
1. You are unlikely to actually die.
2. Depending on your religious or philosophical outlook, this may be a message of some kind from whoever it is you believe sends such obscure communications.
3. You obviously didn't do it right last time.
4. Maybe your subconscious has a thing about drowning or water.
I know this metaphor is quite the extended one but bear with me here, there is a point.
So, you decide, to just pick the direction that feels right and go that way.
Now, you're back and you almost drowned last time as well, but you do remember hearing a distant sound 'behind' you in the mist.
In fact, you can hear it now, but it's closer, and it sounds like birds, seagulls specifically.
That Which Does Not Kill You Makes You Smarter
In life, whether it is our personal or - hopefully - professional one, we experience setbacks, delays, and seemingly insurmountable barriers.
I know from experience that I have been in situations from which I could see no escape nor anticipate any improvement while I was in them. I am now in a situation far superior to said events and look back on myself of those times with incredulity.
That which seems obvious to me now was not at that time.
My best then is inferior to my best now.
My artwork of three years ago is inferior to my art of today.
The me of yesterday learned much in order to become the me of today.
Every mistake you make, every obstacle you encounter, every grazed knee, bruised shin, even broken tooth makes you ready for the next time.
You have to keep moving always forward, whether that forward is behind you or to your left or right. Once you've chosen your direction, you must go forward but always be ready to stop, turn, and go forward again.
It's always forward even if it used to be behind.
I hadn't originally intended to explore quite as much as I did in that post, it just flowed and...became.
My first point of conclusion is that I have no wish to take away from anyone's experiences and minimise their struggles. Nor do I wish to sound insensitive or patronising. If my 'advice' sounds like something you don't want to hear right now, I hope that one day it will. Now is not the right time.
Also, we move back to the actual topic we started with, that of artistic creation.
We have many out there who are considered "The Best" or "One of the Greatest" but do you genuinely think that they started that way? I know that Neil Gaiman received many rejections and worked on some god-awful projects before arriving at Sandman and, through it, fame and recognition. Neil didn't give up or accept that his best wasn't good enough.
We must always, whether we're writers or other artists - 'normal' people or extraordinary people - look for ways to improve.
We must always consult our mental inventory during the dream to check whether we've done this before and how it might have failed.